The September 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Fifth Floor’ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:
“Radio messages for prisoners
Around 6,000 Palestinians are currently detained in Israeli jails, and one of the ways they get news from home is through Palestinian radio. Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring is based in Ramallah and has been listening in.”
The introduction by presenter David Amanor (from 17:31 here) likewise did not bother to inform listeners why those people are serving time in prison or that over 2,000 of them are directly responsible for the murders of Israelis.
Amanor: “Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring tells me, by the way, the number of Palestinian radio stations in the West Bank has been steadily increasing over the years and so has the variety of programmes aimed at prisoners – yes, prisoners. Around six thousand are currently detained in Israeli jails and for many, radio is a vital contact with the outside world. Tala is based in the city of Ramallah.”
Having told listeners of her penchant for changing radio stations while driving, Tala Halawa went on: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Halawa: “I have been fascinated with the content of the radio programmes aimed at prisoners and their families. So this is Marasil [phonetic] which means messages in Arabic; a broadcast on Palestinian radio station Ajyal FM. The presenter Jenin Zaal is giving out the phone number for families to call with messages for prisoners. Her show lasts for 90 minutes and goes out every Friday. I met her in the radio station in Ramallah city centre.
Jenin told me that those 90 minutes are among the most important in her life but she says the programme is very draining. She says she could never give it up; it’s one way she feels she can contribute to the Palestinian cause and do something for her homeland. The promo for Marasil [phonetic] says the programme breaks down prison bars. You can hear that messages like this one from a wife to her imprisoned husband.”
After listeners heard a voice-over of the message, Halawa went on to give her own interpretations:
Halawa: “This is a kind of a typical news a wife would share with her imprisoned husband knowing that thousands are listening to her call. She wants to tell him how much she misses him but in a relatively conservative society she keeps the conversation limited to their kids’ news. To excel in school is a very important matter in the Palestinian context so it’s always the main topic to discuss on air. Spending too much time on social media platforms and computer games concerns all parents.
I also talked to a former prisoner Rula Abu Daho. She’s now a lecturer in Birzeit University and she’s one of the leading figures in women and gender studies in the Palestinian context. Rula said that getting a message from your family through the radio was almost like a visit. Of course it’s a one-way communication but it still feels like a visit. This is Jenin Zaal taking a call from a girl whose mother is in prison.”
After listeners heard another voice-over Halawa went on:
Halawa: “Another former prisoner Esmat Mansour who spent 20 years in prison. During that time he learned Hebrew and now he established a career in journalism. Esmat told me that he found out from the radio that his 20 year imprisonment was about to end. He said that the prison administration just would not say when his release date was. But then some fellow prisoners in the yard started calling him and telling him to listen to Ajyal FM. When he turned on the radio he heard his own family saying how they were preparing celebrations to welcome him back the next day. So, at least, the waiting was over.
I met Mansour for the first time in 2014. He never mentioned that he knew about his release from the radio programme. That was a surprise for me and this made me realise that those programmes are not simply two hours of broadcast: they carry a heavy load of human stories that deserve to be heard.”
Obviously Tala Halawa’s interest in “human stories that deserve to be heard” does not extend beyond the people she presents as ‘prisoners’ without the provision of any context whatsoever. BBC World Service listeners were not told that the quoted university lecturer Rula Abu Daho was imprisoned for her part in the murder of Yigal Shahaf in 1987.
“Dusk was settling over the Old City, reaching into its labyrinthine alleys and shrouding its holy sites as Yigal and Ronit Shahaf made their way slowly toward the Damascus Gate. The young couple, chatting in Hebrew with two friends, paid little heed to the dwindling crowds or the shopkeepers closing for the day.
Nearby, four young Palestinians, three men and a woman, waited. When the Israelis paused in front of a jewelry shop near the Via Dolorosa, one of the men ran toward them, aimed a pistol at the back of Yigal Shahaf’s head and fired one shot.
As chaos broke out, the gunman fled, handing his weapon to one of his comrades, who gave it to the woman, a college student who had just joined the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The woman, Rula abu Duhou, 19, paid with nine years in prison for her participation in the slaying of an innocent Israeli civilian. And still today, freed by a controversial amnesty, she is unrepentant.
“I’m not sorry for it,” Abu Duhou said recently, her dark eyes direct, as relatives and friends streamed into her family’s comfortable West Bank home to celebrate her release. “On the contrary, I’m proud. And I wish I could do more for my country.””
Neither were BBC World Service listeners informed that the ‘journalist’ Esmat Mansour “spent 20 years in prison” because he took part in the murder of Chaim Mizrahi in 1993 or that since his release in 2013 he has received financial benefits for his part in that act of terror.
“In a typical homecoming package, the Palestinian self-rule government gave him $50,000, the rank of colonel and a monthly stipend of 6,000 shekels ($1,725), a higher-than-average income.”
A month before this item was aired on BBC World Service radio the partially licence fee funded BBC department BBC Monitoring – which purports to “to provide news, information and insight to BBC journalists, UK government customers and commercial subscribers, allowing users to make well-informed decisions” – found it appropriate to publish similar ‘analysis’ by Ramallah based Tala Halawa under the title “The ‘private space’ radio offers to Palestinian prisoners“.
There too Halawa showcased contributions from Rula Abu Daho and Esmat Mansour – but with no mention whatsoever of their involvement in acts of terror. She did however tell subscribers that:
“It is estimated that around 6,000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails as a result of the ongoing conflict between the two sides. Palestinians see them as prisoners of war or political prisoners under international law, while Israel disputes this, saying they are terrorists or active in illegal terrorist organisations.”
As has been noted here on previous occasions, the idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may legitimately be defined in such terms.
These two reports further indicate that the BBC has not adequately addressed the issue of politicisation of Middle East related content produced by local staff and the serious question marks that raises regarding the impartiality of BBC content.
BBC’s Knell tells audiences that convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’
Identifying the BBC’s anonymous “mother of a Palestinian inmate”